PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Last fall, Jim Stacey entered the vast, cold shell that had been Slopes Northern Maine Restaurant and Brewing Co. What was then the largest restaurant and brewpub north of Bangor opened in 2004 and closed a short time later, its equipment auctioned off in April 2009.
“When I first saw this place, it had sat unheated for about two years,” Stacey said Thursday afternoon during a tour of what is now The Crow’s Nest, a newly renovated restaurant and event center. “The sheetrock was all cracked, a lot of cold-related damage was done to the interior, and there were gouges and scratches in the floor where people had dragged out the equipment that was sold at auction.”
What others saw as a desolate, dim landscape was a green pasture of potential profit to Stacey, who set out to create the type of place he had thought about operating his “entire life.”
Stacey, the facility’s general manager, will see his vision become reality next week, when employees will cook and serve the first customers in the more than 12,000 square feet of restaurant and indoor event space.
The facility is on Maysville Street just off U.S. Route 1 and across from The Aroostook Centre Mall. The business can accommodate up to 1,018 people and Stacey has centered the business on his idea of convenience.
The Maine-born businessman recently retired after 20 years as president and chief executive officer of the ZF Lemforder Corp, an automotive components company, in Brewer. He said he began looking at opening a restaurant last year and considered several sites before he set his gaze on the former Slopes facility.
“People told me it was too big and too expensive to run, but I did my own calculations and it just made sense to me to settle here,” he said.
The Crow’s Nest will offer casual dining with menu selections to cater to all tastes, he said. Selections will include seafood, pasta, poultry and red meats, with an emphasis on minimizing salt, sugar and fat where possible. A children’s menu will contain fresh, healthful foods to appeal to younger palates, Stacey said.
As much of the food as possible will be grown and purchased from local vendors, and the majority will be prepared on site.
Working around the idea of convenience, Stacey renovated the facility from the outside in, installing a 14-foot-high carport so customers can drop passengers at the doors before parking. Next came a “to go” window where employees will fill orders packaged in ecofriendly containers. The newly revamped inside features artwork on the walls and dividers depicting scenes of life in Aroostook County, including moose and biathletes, mostly prints on fabric with soundproofing on the backs.
In The Crow Bar, customers can sit at bar stools to see the big-screen TVs, or they can relax in the seating area. The bar is stocked with a selection of draught and bottle beers, liquors, and offers an extensive wine list and specialty cocktails.
The Crow’s Nest dining room was created with families in mind, according to Stacey. Adjacent to the seating area is a glass-fronted playroom so parents can keep an eye on children while they eat. The room caters to young children with its kitchen play set, building blocks and other toys, and to adolescents with its Xbox station.
“This will be great because the kids can go play in there while they wait for their food and after they finish eating, and their parents can keep an eye on them as they finish their dinners,” he said.
The building has a private nursing room for breast-feeding, and a changing station is available.
For those who want a quieter dining experience, Stacey has created The Maple Room, with linen tablecloths, candles and music.
Diners who want privacy for a dinner meeting, small family celebration or other such events, but who still want the ambiance of a restaurant, can settle into a smaller adjoining annex.
The Crow’s Nest event center will be open for corporate events, meetings, weddings and parties. It features a private entrance and private restroom facilities, as well as ample parking. Staffers will work with the host to create a menu tailored to the event.
All of the rooms have been soundproofed and arranged so several events can be going on simultaneously without anyone being disturbed.
Stacey said word of mouth has been so good that the facility already has booked 25 events, without a bit of advertising.
With Stacey at the helm as general manager, The Crow’s Nest will employ 75 people, all from Aroostook County.
The business was named by Stacey’s wife, Presque Isle lawyer Channa Jackson Stacey, after a business the two used to frequent in Michigan.
“It was a warm memory that came back to Maine with us,” he said Thursday.
With the doors set to open for dining next Wednesday, Stacey said his dreams for the business, aside from profitability, are simple.
“When people come here and leave, if they say ‘Wow, I had the best time,’ I’ll be very happy,” he said. “I want this to be the preferred place to go, where people come with their families and bring their friends. I want it to be a shining star in the community and I want it to be a place people recommend with pride.”
The Crow’s Nest is inviting people to an open house at the facility from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 5. The restaurant will open to diners on Oct. 6. The restaurant will be open Monday through Saturday, with Sunday hours to be determined.
For hours of operation and additional information, go to www.thecrowsnest.com, or find them on Facebook.